Raleigh moms launch virtual one-room school house with free weekday sessions for kids, families
Posted April 5, 2020 9:15 p.m. EDT
Two Raleigh moms are building a virtual village for kids and families, providing some continuity to our days as schools and businesses are shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In just a few weeks, their venture, Tin Can Kids, already is taking off — and bigger than they ever expected
Within the first two weeks, they tell me, they had more than 300 Instagram followers and email signups from across the United States, West Africa and the United Kingdom. Each day, they get 30 to 50 families tuning in to their sessions via Zoom that feature everything from crafts to how to raise baby chickens.
The moms behind it all — Emily Kotecki and Jean Gray Mohs — kindled their own relationship after their children were born six years ago. They were both stay-at-home moms at the time, with mutual interests, and they spent days together,including taking field trips to museums around the Triangle and Triad.
Kotecki, a mom of a six-year-old and a two-year-old, brings a background in journalism and museum education. She spent almost eight years at the NC Museum of Art in the education department focused on distance learning and in-gallery learning. Now, she consults with museums and created a podcast called Museum Buzz. Mohs, who has six-year-old twins, has worked as an artist and educator. She is a Wake County arts educator, who won Teacher of the Year at her school in 2011, and has led more than 140 elementary art teachers in professional development. Her own work has been featured in 15 solo exhibitions and more than 65 group exhibitions.
The two met through a mutual friend, who put together a mom's group called Mighty Moms that, Kotecki tells me, was a lifeline during those early months.
"Tin Can Kids is another village," Kotecki shares. "We’re all in this new era of living and coping, but still wanting to connect and find community and happiness each day."
Go Ask Mom: What's the genesis for Tin Can Kids, and how did it get it's name?
EK: The Mighty Moms were on a text thread in early March when schools were starting to close and we were all wondering what to do, how to plan, homeschool, create normalcy, etc. With my background in distance learning I asked the group:
That’s literally a screenshot of me and Jean Gray on the thread. Jean Gray jumped in immediately and within 24 hours we had a name, logo, and Instagram. We moved as fast the news cycle to get this up by the Monday after schools closed.
JG: I thought of the name! I wondered what could represent separate but together, communication, play, kid-created. That’s all epitomized in the logo, and it’s also the very elements that make Tin Can Kids work.
GAM: How does it all work, and what do you offer? What are the best ages for it?
Tin Can Kids is a virtual one-room schoolhouse with live, daily episodes at 10 a.m. EST, Monday through Friday, on a variety of topics from guided meditation to pressing flowers to bugs. Parents fill out a Google form to get on the e-mail list to receive the Zoom link and weekly schedule. As the name implies, we wanted this to be kid-centered so kids are co-hosting along with their parents. Our regular attending audience is K-2, but we’ve had families sign up with 8-10 year olds!
GAM: Tell us about some of your favorite recent lessons, and what you have planned.
Where do we start?! All of the sessions have some components of our list below
We love sessions that extend beyond the live virtual experience by inspiring further action through an activity: making self-portraits, collecting flowers to press and dry them, baking a British recipe, making nature mobiles, etc.
We love sessions that teach something new and inspire creativity in our kids: This is family learning at it’s best! Many times we’ve looked at our kids and say “wow cool!” when we learn about British phrases or how to raise baby chickens.
We love sessions that maximize the live experience: The episodes are live so when host families get us dancing, singing, talking to each other, chatting in the chat box, drawing, and more - it makes that moment feel special and real. It is fanning the flames of social interaction and community that we all need.
Looking ahead, we’re partnering with other organizations locally and nationally to host the field trips. Everyone is looking for ways to connect with audiences and we don’t all have to do it alone. Coming up, we have the Nasher Museum of Art, Express Yourself Kids, and Newark Museum of Art hosting sessions and we are reaching out to more local organizations!
GAM: We are all keeping our distance from each other, and for very good reasons. But being together and community also is so important right now. What kind of community do you hope to build with your virtual lessons?
The technology allows us to connect with each other, but community is the engine that drives this experience. These virtual field trips are blossoming into sharing each other’s living rooms, scrunched into tiny squares of smiling faces of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, aunts, and uncles.
Our favorite part of each field trip is saying hello and goodbye! We unmute all the mics and you hear this wonderful chorus of kids greeting each other, waving to each other, wanting to be close when they have to be far.
It anchors the day. It’s something to look forward to. It’s a way to interact. And it brings us joy to connect daily when we’re all separate. It instills hope and community during such an unknown situation.
GAM: How are you guys holding up? What's keeping you both sane right now?
EK: Honestly, the first week was weird. The second week got better. And now the third week is our new normal. We have a daily schedule that has been really helpful. I’m an educator by training so I enjoy putting together weekly themes and curriculum. My kids genuinely enjoy being with each other so I love seeing their relationship grow. I feel grateful that: my husband can easily work from home, we have the food and supplies we need, and we have each other.
What’s keeping me sane is: (1) short daily workouts: a quick jog, bike, or yoga session. (2) Taking the wins where I can: Seeing the pride on Max’s face when he learned to ride a two-wheeler. Sharing the fun of popping bubbles with Maya. I can FaceTime with friends and family. Seeing the growth in Tin Can Kids. (3) Giving back to my community: Our family is Jewish and each Friday - our Sabbath - we do a mitzvah. Plus, Tin Can Kids feels like it’s a way to give back to families!
JG: As I sat down earlier to create the weekly schedule graphic for the upcoming fourth week of Tin Can Kids, I started reflecting about my experience so far. I am very proud of the things that we have put into place. It has been very reassuring to be proactive throughout this experience when so many things are out of our control. With Tin Can Kids in place it has helped to form my family's days and helped to keep the connection with others going strong.
As I am an immunosuppressed person Monday, April 6, will actually mark one month since my family has been in isolation and yet somehow it doesn’t feel that long. Creating new normals for my children and family has been an interesting task and I am allowing for grace, flexibility, creativity, and connection. A combination of humor, structure, projects, and community has been what is getting me through.
In the end I give thanks for the time it is giving my family to grow and create and be. I give thanks for shelter, health, food, and love that we have for each other and when I focus on those things then all is well.
Go Ask Mom features local parents every Monday.